With my time at the olive farm drawing to an end, I thought a little summary of the things I’ve learned about oils would be good.
First up, and in the category of “things I could have realized if I thought about it for 2 more seconds” is that olive oil is actually fruit juice. It’s also not to be confused with popular cartoon character Olive Oyl.
Olive oil is made from a cold pressing system. This means that the oil has to stay below 80 degrees during the milling process. Heating it above 80 degrees destroys more complex aromatics, and reduces overall quality. However, the flip side to this coin is that the warmer the mill, the more oil you get. So, 89 degrees seems to be the sweet spot.
Olive oil basically comes from smooshing the olives, (malaxation, if you want to get fancy) and then separating the liquid oil from the the pulpy bits. This doesn’t need any other chemical treatments. Other vegetable oils produced commercially are made using a chemical solvent called hexane. (Typically.)
Extra virgin olive oil as the least processed form of olive oil, it has the best benefits for heart health.
Some research also shows that olive oil may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
On a more personal level, I learned that picking the Koroneiki trees is the pits. The trees are denser making it harder to see the olives. The leaves are also sharper, which sounds like I am being a wuss, but when you have to get all up in a tree’s business, it matters.
That gets into pruning. Pruning helps keep the tree producing fruit and, if properly pruned makes things easier on the picker.
Olive trees are neat for the California climate. The majority of olive oil comes from Spain. But more and more orchards in the US and Australia are coming on the scene. Adapted to a Mediterranean climate, olive trees are drought resistant and have very few pests. Which is not to say there aren’t issues.
Trees lacking water develop a problem called “brown nosing”. This is when the fruit part doesn’t develop completely over the pit, giving it an acorn shape.
Another issue is happens when trees develop small berries called “shot berries”. Shot berries sound to me like something Roald Dahl might make up. But really they are insufficiently pollinated. Olives are sometimes self pollinating, but most require olives of a different variety, and are primarily pollinated by wind. (With some assistance from bees.)
There you have it! Olive the things I learned!